Let your light shine

When you shine a light you become the light.*
(Hugh Macleod)

Have you ever noticed how many actions there are to lighting a candle?

When I set out my list of things to do, I began with setting the candle on a flat and safe surface, but now I’m thinking about how I came to get the candle in the first place, even before straightening the wick, opening the box of matches and striking one, carefully lighting the candle and safely disposing of the spent match. And are you just going to live the box of matches lying around or tidy it away?

What we often think of as “lighting a candle” is made up of many details. Imagine, then, how many details there are to shining as the different kinds of light that we are.

Bernadette Jiwa writes about her manager in one of her first jobs. Paula would lead by example, beginning the day with sweeping the floor:

The first thing Paula did when she arrived every morning was sweep the floor. Sweeping the floor became a ritual – her way of preparing a welcome for customers when they arrived. That small act changed Paula’s posture, as well as the attitude of the team who worked with her.**

Jiwa’s story is from the hospitality industry, but it isn’t where Jiwa ended up. Although now a marketer and writer, she remembers this detail from so many years earlier. It made me think about all the years I spent doing all the things my job required of me, paying attention to the details, especially of the things I wasn’t so intuitive or good at so that I could do these things the best I could. It also meant that I would come to notice the things that meant the most to me, things not necessarily valued within that organisation:

I guess my point is that we are what we do, and we need to try and experiment to be able to find who we are and what we are good at.^

Paying attention to the details of what we’re doing and how we react to these (our energies) is how we become able to give ourselves permission to be the peculiar kind of light we are, and which the world needs. The alternative is to wait for the big break or for someone else to notice what matters to us, and that might be as fruitless as waiting for Godot.

The thing about each of our lights is that they are made up of the kinds of details we notice and others don’t, making it possible to bring these together in some new way.

Gerd Gigerenzer and Stephen Jay Gould share how there’s something about humans needing to look beyond probability:

our minds are not built (for whatever reason) to work by the rules of probability.^^

They refer to the Linda example; you can try this one out for yourself:

Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student she was concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice and participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

Which of the following two alternatives is more probably?

Linda is a bank teller
Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.*^

You probably chose the second possibility because we can’t help ourselves when it comes to details, even though the first possibility is the more probable.

When we free ourselves to notice the details and to create something from these, then our light begins to shine. Youngme Moon warns us:

If we only pay attention to things that we can measure we will only pay attention to the things that are easily measurable. And in the process, we will miss a lot.^*

This morning, I came to the end of Patrick Woodhouse’s account of Etty Hillesum and my attention was particularly caught by his description of Hillesum’s “courage of despair” making it possible for her to notice and write about the details in the transit camp she would soon leave for Auschwitz.

Hillesum writes of the wooden bench she is sitting on as she looks ahead and sees the waving blue heather, of love for people and life, the greetings she received on returning to the camp, pouring coffee, cutting and giving bread, scrubbing toilets, reading Meister Eckhart, dry biscuits and tea, encouraging a young girl with her poetry, and her list goes on.⁺

Seeing these things and helping others to is what made Hillesum a light in Westerbork. Our lights will be different, but they will be found in our worlds of immeasurable details.

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: How to transcend the daily drudgery.)
(**From The Story of Telling: Sweeping the Floor.)
(^Alfredo Carlo in Drawn Together Through Visual Practice.)
(^^Stephen Jay Gould, quoted in Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(*^From Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(^*From Youngme Moon’s Different.)
(⁺See Patrick Woodhouse’s Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed.)

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